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Robins Mental Health Clinic experts explain PTSD, discuss ways to recover

Graphic shows two head silhouettes mirrored with the text, "Not all wounds are visible - PTSD Awareness Month" superimposed over them.

June is PTSD Awareness Month. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which can sometimes develop in people who have experienced or witnessed a life-threatening or traumatic event, can be defined as a number of reactions that a person may have as a result of experiencing such events. A person also does not need to have a diagnosis of PTSD to still experience post-traumatic stress symptoms. There is help for everyone.

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

PTSD often comes to mind when people think of military members who’ve served in combat zones.

However, the condition can happen to anyone, even civilians who have not served in the military. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which can sometimes develop in people who have experienced or witnessed a life-threatening or traumatic event, can be defined as a number of reactions that a person may have as a result of experiencing such events. A person also does not need to have a diagnosis of PTSD to still experience post-traumatic stress symptoms. There is help for everyone.

Capt. Valerie Bennett, a licensed clinical social worker and the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program Element chief in the 78th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron Mental Health Flight, said not all people, though, react the same way, have the same symptoms, or develop the condition at all.

“Some of the common symptoms of experiencing a traumatic event may include nightmares or flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, uncontrollable anxiety or severe emotional distress, avoidance, negative thinking patterns, changes in mood and/or behavior, hypervigilance, or guilt or shame surrounding the event,” she said.

Capt. Luke Davidiuk, 78th OMRS clinical, said many variables play a part that may contribute to ongoing symptoms and reactions following a traumatic event.

“Some of the factors include a history of exposure to multiple dangerous events or traumas, a history of childhood trauma, having little or no social support after the event, dealing with other significant stressors after the event, or having a history of other mental health issues or substance use,” he said.  

Davidiuk said other common causes of PTSD include: exposure to physical or sexual abuse, natural disasters, major life threatening accidents, or being a ‘first responder’ to life threatening/traumatic events. 

The signs and symptoms are very similar to those who suffer from combat-related PTSD, although there can be slight differences depending on the individual, Davidiuk said.

In any case, PTSD can frequently leave people feeling broken. All is not lost for those with PTSD though, as there are base and community resources to help people with the disorder.

“Trauma has a funny way of distorting the perceptions of ourselves, our surroundings, and others,” Davidiuk said. “The good news is that the symptoms are very treatable, and people can recover from the negative experiences and achieve healing over time with the appropriate evidence-based care.”

The Mental Health Clinic at Robins uses a variety of treatment methods to treat patients.

“There are two primary evidence-based treatments that are the ‘gold standard’ clinical practice guideline for both the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs to treat PTSD,” Davidiuk said. “The first is Cognitive Processing Therapy. We also use Prolonged Exposure. Along with those two methods, we incorporate Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to aid in restructuring negative thoughts. These are all psychotherapies aimed at some combination of exposure and cognitive reframing in order to help the person to recover from the trauma and experience improvements in how they think, act, and feel.”

Davidiuk said there are also some medication options available that can improve symptoms management, however, therapy is the best way to treat post-traumatic symptoms.

From Robins helping agencies to community resources, there are a host of avenues people with PTSD can take to start their recovery process.

“All members on active duty orders, like active-duty members, National Guard and Reservists, are eligible for care in the Mental Health Clinic,” Bennett said.

The Mental Health Clinic is open from 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Monday – Friday, and is located in the 78th Medical Group Building 700 on Seventh Street at Robins.

An on-call mental health provider is available 24 hours a day for consultation to command and first sergeants.

Airmen who are experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms that are overwhelming to them may do the following to seek help: call their first sergeants; call someone you care about; call the National Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 or text 838255 for help; or live chat with a responder at www.veteranscrisisline.net

Walk-in acute crisis services are available during duty hours.

Those eligible to be treated at the Mental Health Clinic may receive a referral from their primary healthcare providers to be seen or patients can be referred to meet with a mental health provider in primary care through the Behavioral Health Optimization Program on base.

Military members may also contact the Mental Health Clinic directly at 478-327-8398 or walk into the clinic during its duty hours.

Mental Health Clinic walk-in patients will be triaged by a staff member to determine the most appropriate level of care that is needed, Davidiuk said.

The clinic often offers information on community resources to retirees, beneficiaries, and others who are not eligible for treatment at its facility.

 Community resources to help with PTSD include the Macon Veterans Center at (478) 477-3813, the Dublin Veterans Administration Medical Center at (478) 272-1210, and the Georgia Veteran Education Career Transition Resource Center at (478) 218-3900, as well as the Military One Source website at www.militaryonesource.mil and the Veterans Administration website at www.va.gov.

Defense Department civilians and their household members may contact the Air Force Employee Assistance Program at 866-580-9078 for help.

With the appropriate treatment, Davidiuk said it is possible for people to recover from PTSD.

“For most people, trauma-related symptoms resolve within the first few weeks and months after the initial exposure,” he said. “For some, the symptoms can last for months, if not years, especially if they go untreated. Additionally, some individuals may have periods when symptoms are not very intense and other times when symptoms flare up. The bottom line is that many people fully recover from the effects of a trauma exposure.”